Let’s debunk some of the most pervasive myths and look at the top ten publishing lies told to indie authors. If you’re a novice to publishing, you’ve probably already come across a ton of conflicting information. A big reason for this is that the publishing landscape has changed immensely in the past decade or two and what was true for an author who published their first book twenty years ago is not necessarily true for a new author today.Support the show
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Introduction (various voices) 00:05
Welcome to the Empowered Author podcast.
Discussion, tips, insights and advice from those who’ve been there, done that, helping you write, publish and market your nonfiction book.
Being an author is something that you’ve got to take seriously.
I’m proud I’ve written a book.
What does the reader need, first? What does the reader need, second?
What happens if you start writing your book before you identify your “why”? What’s the problem with that?
You’re an indie author, you take the risk; you reap the rewards; you are in charge of the decisions. You’re the head of that business.
Every emotion you’re feeling when you’re writing is felt by every other writer.
The Empowered Author podcast. Your podcast hosts are Boni and John Wagner-Stafford of Ingenium Books.
John Wagner-Stafford 00:59
Hi, everybody. Thanks for joining us today. This is going to be a little bit of a different podcast than the normal because normally we have Boni Wagner-Stafford hosting with another guest. And today I am going to be hosting and Boni’s the guest. And we’ve done this a little bit before. But let’s have some fun today. And today we’re going to be talking about a really interesting topic that we have kind of entitled “The Ten Publishing Lies Told to Indie Authors”. And what we mean by that really is that, since the publishing industry has changed so much over the last 20 years, 25 years, the messages that have been coming out for indie authors has also evolved over those years. And we kind of want to bring everybody up to date about what the reality is – as we know it today – about some of the topics that we’re going to talk about in these ten lies. Money is one of them. Agents is another. Traditional publishing versus hybrid publishing. So we’ll get to those when I ask Boni about them. So welcome, Boni.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 02:05
Well, thank you very much. It’s so nice to be here. And it’s so nice to be sitting in this side of the desk instead of the other side of the desk today.
John Wagner-Stafford 02:13
Yeah, and we’re sitting across from each other today in our Mexico office and having a lot of fun. So let’s just get to it. I’ve given a bit of an intro about why we want to talk about these things: because things have changed and evolved over time. So why don’t we start at the top of the list? And Boni, you might correct me, is this the most important one? Is this the number ten or is this the number one?
Boni Wagner-Stafford 02:36
Oh, it’s whichever.
John Wagner-Stafford 02:38
Whatever it is.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 02:39
John Wagner-Stafford 02:40
So one of the things that is kind of a myth and we’re not sure about is – we call it the number one lie – “Money should always flow to the author.” What does that mean?
Boni Wagner-Stafford 02:51
Well, this is – so this is at the top of my list for the things that make me feel so bad for indie authors when they come across this message, which is: it’s true that money should always flow to the author. But what happens is, it is often misconstrued as to suggest that no indie author ever should pay for anything. And that’s just not true. And that just doesn’t serve the indie author. Where this comes from is something called your Yog’s Law. Y, O, G. And that came from a guy by the name of Jim McDonald, as part of a campaign that he was waging to warn authors against vanity publishers. So Yog’s Law literally states, “Money should flow toward the author.” Of course. And the idea is that you shouldn’t be paying exorbitant amounts of money upfront for anything that you’re either not going to get or that’s going to be subpar. And that is something that can happen with predatory vanity publishers. But the truth is that many people have misinterpreted Yog’s Law, that the author should never pay for anything. And that simply isn’t true. Even in a traditional publishing setup, you might be liable for certain costs: you know, maybe part of the permissions cost; time and energy costs for sure. And many of these costs are subtracted from your royalties. And as an indie author managing your own publishing process, you’re actually in the role of publisher. And I think this is kind of where we get confused. When you’re an indie author, you are wearing at least two hats. Only one of them is the hat of the author. The other one is the hat of the publisher. And you need to make some investments if you want to have a professional quality book that is going to stack up in a very crowded marketplace. So I just – I feel really bad when very well-meaning people comment on, you know, various Facebook groups or, you know, other social media platforms that an author who is asking a question about, you know, they received a contract from a hybrid publisher or something like that and the comments come out that, “Oh they’re – it’s a scam.” And it just isn’t necessarily true. It requires more scrutiny about what that contract entails and who the publisher is. And certainly, we want authors to feel empowered to investigate and protect themselves against what might be predatory vanity practices. And we certainly don’t advocate paying for something for which you’re not going to get value. But this is really a damaging misconception that is out there that is not aligned with the notion of empowering authors to produce really good, quality books and actually sell some.
John Wagner-Stafford 06:17
Yeah, and I think the point that sticks out for me is that this is a notion that was brought to the forefront at the beginning of or, you know, shortly after we as authors were able to publish our books by ourselves, with the coming of Amazon and whatnot. So this notion has kind of carried over year after year after year, without anybody kind of saying, “Hey, wait a minute, things are changing. Things are different today.” They’re better today than they were 20 years ago, for sure, in my opinion. And this is the way you publish a book: yourself, hybrid, traditional, whatever. But it does take some money to do it, doesn’t it?
Boni Wagner-Stafford 06:58
It does. It absolutely does.
John Wagner-Stafford 07:01
So let’s move on to lie number two, “You have only three publishing options: traditional, self-publishing or vanity publisher.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 07:12
Yeah, and this kind of flows on from that first one, that there are – my belief is and what I witness is that those same people who say, “Oh, you’re going to be victim to a scam if you’re going to work with a hybrid publisher,” for example, that requires you to make any investment upfront: the flow-on from that is that unless it’s traditional publishing or self-publishing where you’re doing everything yourself, the only other option is that it’s a vanity publisher. And that is just not true. The truth is that there are two other main options and routes for you. One is assisted self-publishing and the other is hybrid publishing. With assisted self-publishing, you may pay a publishing services company a one-off fee and they – that company – will guide you through the process and provide you with services to support you on your self-publishing journey. You are still going to manage the distribution and uploading and all of those retailer interfaces but you’ve paid for help to make it along the way. And this kind of speaks to something else – I don’t know if this is coming up because I haven’t looked at this list in a little while – but it speaks to something else, which is one of the arguments that these people make to say, “Don’t ever pay for anything and otherwise, it’s a scam,” is that you can learn to do all these things yourself. The point is not everybody chooses to. That learning curve is steep; the landscape is changing rapidly; everything takes time. And sometimes people want to do other things with their time, like write, plan the next book, maybe – heaven forbid – even spend some time with the family. And so purely self-publishing – doing everything yourself; never hiring anyone for help ever – is, might work for some people but it doesn’t work for everybody. So you have assisted self-publishing as another totally legitimate and viable option in terms of the publishing landscape. And you have hybrid publishing, which sometimes is called partner publishing. And this is where the author will bear part of the cost of the creation, the production, the marketing and the distribution of the book but you publish under the publisher’s imprint and you don’t have to manage those distributor interfaces. Really, this is very close to a traditional publishing arrangement in all respects. You will be producing a much more professional product than you may, in many cases, be able to generate on your own. And the payoff for that bigger investment upfront is a much bigger share of royalties in the end. So, there are at least five publishing options: traditional, self, assisted self, hybrid publishing and you can also choose to go through a so-called vanity publisher if that is going to be right for you. Let’s pause for a moment for a message from our sponsor.
John Wagner-Stafford 11:11
Lie number three is exactly kind of the end of what we were just talking about: is, “If you self-publish, you have to do everything.” And you know, this is not true. And in fact, we like to kind of ring the bell with authors – our authors and anyone out there who’s doing a book: when you’re writing a book and publishing a book on your own or even assisted or with a hybrid publisher for the most part, you are running a business. And when you’re running a business – and we know this; we run our own business – you can’t do everything yourself. You don’t have all the expertise in all the different areas that is required to run a business well. And so this holds true for writing, editing, proofreading, publishing, marketing, collecting royalties: all of the different things that need to be done. So you know, the lie, if you self-publish, you have to be everything: you don’t have to do everything. And I would say you probably can’t do everything.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 12:13
John Wagner-Stafford 12:14
And shouldn’t do everything. Because you – who’s got, you know, 100 percent of the great expertise to do everything.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 12:20
Yeah. Yeah. If you – and we would never advocate. And again, it depends on the goal. So I would never advocate: I’m just catching myself in another lie there because the whole point of the Empowered Author podcast is to make the right decisions for you. So maybe this is right for you: to do everything. And it doesn’t matter that your book stacks up against the big, traditional, Big Five publishing houses. And that’s okay, if that’s not the goal that you’ve set. But you do not have to do everything. And in most cases, we would certainly say that you should not do everything: you should engage some professionals, certainly on the editing side and the design side, at the very least.
John Wagner-Stafford 13:04
Yeah, good. So moving on to lie number four, “You’ll make more money through self-publishing.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 13:12
Maybe that might be true for somebody but it is not true. Usually what people are talking about here is the percentage of royalties; they’re not talking about the money in terms of black and white dollar figures. So it is true that with self-publishing, all of the royalties that you will receive from distributors like Amazon will come to you. If you work with a traditional publisher, it is true that you’ll receive between five and 15 percent of those royalties. And those royalties – that percentage – will be applied against any advance that you receive. And with a hybrid publisher, you’re going to receive 40 to 60 percent. So when people say you’ll make more money through publishing, I really think that they’re talking about your percentage of royalties will be greater. But that does not necessarily mean the dollars you receive will be greater. I actually think that when you make a strategic decision to leverage the right partnership for your book and for your goals, that is how you determine. And you put yourself in a position to make the greatest amount from book sales. And it’s kind of related to the percentage but not quite the same thing.
John Wagner-Stafford 14:36
Yeah, excellent. And I was just going to talk about royalties but we’ve done podcasts and blogs on royalties, so I think we’ll let that one go for now. Yeah. Number five. The lie is, “You can’t land a book deal without a completed manuscript.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 14:54
Yeah, this is – you know, it depends on the publisher. It depends on the book. It depends on the author. So in some cases, it may be that you need a completed manuscript in order to land a traditional or a hybrid publishing deal. Most hybrid publishers – many hybrid publishers – and we would recommend: there’s an independent business – Independent Book Publishers Association, IBPA, that has established a list of hybrid publishing criteria. And included in that is that hybrid publishers should be vetting their submissions: don’t accept just any proposal that comes their way. So that’s what we talk about when we say, “getting a book deal”. So whether it’s traditional or hybrid. But the difference here is that unless you’re really, really, really famous – or best-selling authors have, you know, you already have worth and celebrities – it kind of depends on, as I already said, who the publisher is. And it also depends on the genre. Fiction is much more likely to require the manuscript before it can get accepted. But for a nonfiction book, it is actually, most of the time, not required. What agents and publishers want to see more of with a – for a nonfiction book proposal is who the audience is, how the book is going to help and what the plan is for the content, with a high-level synopsis that talks about what’s going to be accomplished; the tools and tips – what you’re what you’re going to create for the reader; what the competitive landscape is like and then this one is really, really key: how big is your network? Publishers today – both traditional and hybrid – really want to see, you know, where’s your footprint in the world and how are you going to be able to help sell that book, once it’s done. So that’s the reality with whether you need a manuscript in order to land a book deal. The answer is, sometimes; not always.
John Wagner-Stafford 17:15
And just very briefly: I’m hearing and reading in these last two topics, “book deal”. Book deal. So just to be clear, what is a book deal?
Boni Wagner-Stafford 17:28
Yeah, good, good question. A book deal is a publishing deal. It’s an arrangement: you know, an agreement, “Okay. Your book idea that you’re going to write, we’re going to publish it.” That’s a book deal. It’s an agreement between an author and a publisher.
John Wagner-Stafford 17:41
Whether it’s with a hybrid publisher or whether it’s a traditional publisher. And does anything change when you’re in an assisted publishing scenario where you’re hiring an editor and a book cover designer themselves? Does that come into play?
Boni Wagner-Stafford 17:57
Yes. That’s … When I think about a book deal or a publishing deal, I am not talking about anything in the self-publishing or assisted self-publishing realm where that is a contract for service: that is not a book deal. So if you’re if you’re self-publishing and you’re looking for assisted self-publishing services, just because you hire somebody to work with you, that’s not a book deal.
John Wagner-Stafford 18:21
Oh, I just wanted to clarify that. Okay. Number six, “You need to have an agent to land a book deal.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 18:29
Yeah. Also sometimes but not necessarily. There are increasingly cases where even the Big Five traditional publishers may go direct to an author. I think that the traditional – and we’ve spoken about this with one of our guests, David Morris, on a podcast; I don’t know the episode number right off the top of my head but we were talking about traditional publishing and agents. And one of the things that David said – and it’s true – is that in many cases, so an author may get picked up by a traditional publisher. Hybrid publishers, in most cases, do not require – and in our case, at Ingenium Books, we do not wish to have an agent involved, so … But for a traditional publishing arrangement, according to David Morris – and everything I’ve seen suggests that this is true – that traditional publishers, in many cases, prefer to work with agents because agents know the landscape; they know the language; they know what’s expected. It actually will take less time and energy for that traditional publisher to get the book ready – manage the whole deal – when they’re working with an agent and the agent can bring the author along. If a traditional publisher is working with a non-agent-represented author, in particular if it’s a full-time – excuse me – first-time author, it’ll be more work for them. Just to bring the author along.
John Wagner-Stafford 20:03
Yeah, cool. The agent kind of vets or pre-qualifies the author to the traditional publisher. So the traditional publisher says, “Okay, I’ve got an author. We know that they’re ready for us and we’re ready for them, if the match is right.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 20:19
John Wagner-Stafford 20:20
Okay, number seven, “Once you’ve chosen a publishing route, you can’t go any other way.” Now, is that route or route?
Boni Wagner-Stafford 20:28
I did – I don’t know. Either way. I think it depends on where you live. Like so many things, the answer is, “It depends.”
John Wagner-Stafford 20:35
Yeah. So you can’t go any other way once you’ve chosen a publishing route.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 20:39
Yeah. And that’s not true either. And maybe it used to be true but it isn’t true. You can self-publish today and then land a traditional publishing deal tomorrow. Many authors – Orna Ross, the founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, is someone who had traditional publishing deals and chose to self-publish after she, you know, got her rights back from her traditional publisher. Many authors are doing that. It – again, it depends on your goals, your circumstances, what you want to achieve. And there really is no right or wrong. And then there’s also the circumstance where you hear about books that started out self-published and then got picked up by traditional publishers and go on to sell gazillions and gazillions. That’s a very technical term. Gazillions of copies. And you know, that happened with “Fifty Shades of Grey”, for example; it happened with Andy Weir’s book, “The Martian”, that went on to be a movie with Matt Damon. You know, those are two examples of books that started out self-published and then later got picked up. So no, you’re not boxed in, ever. You got lots of options.
John Wagner-Stafford 21:51
Yeah. And you can, you know, with one book, possibly self-publish; with another book, traditionally publish: depending on the contract with the publisher, I guess. Yeah. Okay. Next, “Nobody will take you seriously as an author unless you’ve published with the Big Five.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 22:08
Yeah, that’s lie number eight.
John Wagner-Stafford 22:10
Boni Wagner-Stafford 22:12
Just if anybody’s counting.
John Wagner-Stafford 22:13
Lie number eight.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 22:14
Yeah, this is not necessarily true. But I think this is one of those lies that authors are told. It is possible that you will not be taken as seriously as an author if you are published through a vanity press. You will not be taken as seriously as an author if you are self-published and you have not engaged with professionals to ensure that you have produced the best quality book possible. If you’ve designed your own cover on the side of your desk and you’re not a designer; if you’ve had your aunt proofread your book and she was a kindergarten teacher but she is not a trained proofreader skilled in the various style guides; and those kinds of things. So it is not necessarily true but there are things associated with the choices you make as an indie author that will affect your broader credibility. And I think that is a really valid conversation to have with yourself. Again, back to what are your goals for the book? How do you plan to use the book? And that informs your choice as to publishing route. And one of those considerations is, what will the broader impact be? But it is not necessarily true that you will not ever be taken seriously unless you’re published by the Big Five. That’s simply not true.
John Wagner-Stafford 23:51
And I guess the Big Five are looking at your book – the product – in their regard, as. “Can we make some money?” But it’s probably not their only focus but it is a an important focus for a big publisher: “Are we going to be making money from this book?”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 24:10
You know, that’s a really good point because it may not be the only focus but we live in a capitalist system. And those publishers – every single publisher, Ingenium Books included – is a business. We cannot stay in business if we aren’t able to make money. That’s not a bad thing. The authors want to make money. If you cannot provide the income to put food on the table for your families, you have to look for something else to do. So yeah, they are looking for can they can they make money off this? What is the potential? It’s not the only consideration but it is an important one. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s the way this world works.
John Wagner-Stafford 25:05
I agree. And you know, this is probably for another blog or another podcast but when you’re writing your book and you are thinking about approaching a publisher, you need to kind of make sure that you have ducks in line such that the book is a viable, commercial entity in some regard, I imagine.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 25:27
Yes, it’s absolutely true. And it’s why publishers want to know how big your network is. Do you have a mailing list? What’s the size of your social media following? Are you already on the speaking circuit? Those are really important factors in the potential sale and success of your book. So yes, is the story good? Yes, is it serving a need in the market? And can you help to move that book once it is published? All really, really important considerations.
John Wagner-Stafford 26:02
I agree. So we’ve got a couple of minutes left. We’re on number nine. This is number nine, the lie: “Indie publishers will publish anything.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 26:10
Yeah, not true. Some will publish anything. Those tend to be on the vanity side of the ledger. And again, if a vanity publisher is what fits you and your goal and you really, really just want your book to be something you can hold in your hand and you aren’t worried about sales and you aren’t necessarily worried about your reputation, that might work for some people. But otherwise, indie publishers – whether they are a boutique press following a traditional model where there may be an advance against royalties provided to authors – they are selective. They will not accept everything. Hybrid publishers also will not accept everything. We receive submissions at Ingenium Books and it’s not right for us for a variety of reasons: it’s not in the right genre; it’s not up to our standards; it’s, you know, there’s not a fit with our goals and mission and the author’s goals and mission. I mean, all kinds of reasons. So it’s not true that just because someone – some company – is an indie publisher, that they will publish anything. It’s not actually the facts.
John Wagner-Stafford 27:39
Excellent. And number ten. This is the last, the big number ten: “It takes a set time to publish a book.”
Boni Wagner-Stafford 27:47
Yeah, so interesting. So for sure, it takes time. But it’s not a set time. And it depends. There are lots of variables that tell us how long it might take to get a manuscript to be converted to a published book. And, you know, that depends on the length of the manuscript. How much polishing is there to do to the manuscript? Does it need to be rewritten? You know, what’s the degree of editing it needs? Whether or not you outsource jobs to freelancers or you’re trying to do everything yourself. The availability of freelancers that you use, if you’re using freelancers. Whether you’re going to use illustrations or other images and where are you going to source those from? Do you need to create them or is it just a matter of, you know, paying to license them? Whether you need to seek permissions to quote, if you’re using quotes from other authors’ work. And how much time you want to invest in the prepublish marketing activities. You know, it’s increasingly important – and this is one of the big differences in the timelines between publishing models: is you can very quickly get a self-published book created, done and available for sale. And that may be fine. But that’s not necessarily going to help your sales. A traditional publisher, on the other end of the spectrum in terms of how long does it take to publish a book, they will have a book completed; the cover designed; the title signed and landed – signed off and landed; the manuscript totally finished and they may wait six months, a year before the book is actually available because they’re spending energy on the prepublish marketing. And that really makes a difference. So there’s no set time. I’m going to say it again: it depends on your goals and what you’re hoping to achieve and being realistic about what is the state of your manuscript. And, you know, there’s also no set time for how long it’s going to take to develop that manuscript. We’ve worked with people for, you know, three years, developing a manuscript. And we’ve, with others, between submission and being ready for publish, it’s been just a few months. So it’s not the same for everybody. And it isn’t supposed to be the same for everybody.
John Wagner-Stafford 30:24
Yeah. Our first questions to an author or a client of ours – and many, many other publishers have the same tactic, I’m sure – is, what are your goals? What do you want to try to achieve? Is this a money-making thing? Is it a – do you just want to have your name on a book? Et cetera, et cetera. So that really often drives the project. And hence, therefore, the time it takes to get it done. And those goals may shift in the middle of the project. Or things might affect those goals, which take more time in a project.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 30:59
Exactly. And then the other thing we ask and – is, when do you hope to publish? And that is related to the goals but also. it helps us understand, you know, what are your expectations around the timing. And is there a commercial market reason? You know, maybe you’re working on a journaling book or a, you know, a daily reflections kind of a book and you say, “I really want this out in time for people to buy it for the Christmas season.” Perfectly reasonable. Can we get it done? Or, “I just, I want it out by Valentine’s Day just because I told myself I want it out by Valentine’s Day,” but your manuscript isn’t ready; we need to do a whole bunch of heavy lifting on the front end for the prepublish marketing activities. And there’s no other commercial reason for that date. We would have a conversation about that. So yeah, it just, you know, depends.
John Wagner-Stafford 32:01
Yeah, talking it out. We’ve come to the end of our time that we typically allot for podcasts but I want to kind of just summarize this: as I’m reading through and listening to all of these, this almost is a list that an author can use as a list of questions to ask a potential publisher if they’re wanting to work with them – or even editors or other people – ask them, you know, some of these questions or talk about these lies; ask some of these questions. How long is it going to take? How much money am I going to make? And then the answers will come from that. And then the other thing I wanted to kind of bring back here is that the environment – the self-publishing environment – has changed, you know, drastically over the last 25 years. And it’s kind of changing exponentially and fairly rapidly as things move along. And this is the state of the industry as we know it today. Our answer’s in this. So, you know, take them; do what you want with them. Ask questions. Check things out. Be careful. Take care of yourself. Take care of your business.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 33:14
And that’s exactly right. And we would love to hear questions. Send us questions. You can find us on social media: @IngeniumBooks on Twitter; Ingenium Books on Facebook. Our website: IngeniumBooks.com. And we also have a document that might be helpful for folks. If you go to IngeniumBooks.com, right on that homepage, there’s two things that might be helpful: there is a quiz that will tell – will help you determine which publishing model is good for you. You know, a dozen questions or so and then you get the the answer that might be helpful as you’re exploring what might work for you. And then there – we also have a full document that explains different kinds of publishing that, pretty sure you can find access on our homepage. And if not, I apologize. Send us an email. We’ll get it to you.
John Wagner-Stafford 34:13
Excellent. Well, Boni, thanks so much. It’s been a pleasure. I don’t often host these things. It was a lot of fun for me to host this. And we’ll see you next time. Thanks, everybody.
Boni Wagner-Stafford 34:25
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this episode of the Empowered Author podcast, please feel free to share it on social media. We’d also be very grateful if you could rate, review and subscribe to the Empowered Author on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you access your podcasts. That’s helpful for us but, more importantly, it’s helpful for other indie authors who are looking for resources to help them on their continuous learning journey.